THE KIDNAPPING of scores of girls from a school in the town of Chibok, apparently by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, has opened many Nigerians’ eyes to the troubles in the predominantly Muslim north of their country. The kidnapping, along with a botched government response, sparked widespread protests. Outrage only increased after one of the protest leaders was detained, allegedly at the request of Nigeria’s first lady, Prudence Jonathan. In fact, the protesters should be applauded for their courage, and for their ingenuity in drawing attention to the girls’ plight.
The US government, properly, has offered to send military and law enforcement officials to help free the girls, a move welcomed by President Goodluck Jonathan. Meanwhile, greater scrutiny, both from inside and outside Nigeria, should give a troubled government more incentive to operate professionally, both in the Chibok case and on a range of other problems.
Boko Haram, whose name translates roughly to “western education is forbidden,” is a uniquely disturbing group. It has routinely targeted schools, and earlier this month killed over 200 people in an attack on a village. This week, leader Abubakar Shekau circulated a video that reportedly showed some of the captured girls. In it, he repeated a threat to sell them into slavery unless some Boko Haram fighters in government custody were freed.
To date, the Nigerian government has been ineffective at containing Boko Haram, and officials’ heavy-handedness has only exacerbated some deeper social grievances. The army has often been accused of extrajudicial killings. Only a trickle of the country’s vast oil wealth makes its way north. Much more ends up lining the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians.
The protesters have attracted worldwide attention through their Twitter hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls. Even as protesters hope for the best outcome for the kidnap victims, they’ve shown their own influence, and working to increase government accountability more broadly is a logical next step.